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Where I Lived and What I Lived: Experiment of Social Isolation

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Henry David Thoreau was an American author who possibly will be considered as one of the most opinionated supporters of environmentalism. He became famous for his violent outbursts about nature and the unfairness of society. As a strong supporter of environmentalism, Thoreau believed that nature was the epitome of the spiritual world and that people needed to free themselves from the responsibilities of society to embark on the theology of nature. Thoreau trusts that as a replacement for using nature as a symbol of the sacred world or having it be comparable to the sacred world that is out there, there should now be an awareness that nature in itself is the sacred world.

Thoreau presents his work, Walden, as a prayer for transcendentalism. Between the Transcendentalists’ main values were the fundamental righteousness of both people and nature and understood that individuals remained at their greatest when they were self-trusting. The key persistent theme that emerges in transcendentalism is a resume to nature. Thoreau moved to Walden Pond to conduct an experiment in personal liberation as opposed to social interaction – this was not isolation but instead was an experiment in the truest of forms. Thoreau leaves for Walden Pond to watch, discover, and study, suggestive of his transcendentalist philosophies. In Walden, Thoreau clarifies his views of transcendentalism through his descriptions of nature and gratitude of the sounds of nature. Thoreau’s writings in Walden, specifically those of Where I Lived and What I Lived For, Solitude, and Conclusion, are an overview of the experiment he completed. He completed an experiment of social isolation and wrote about the entire experience in Walden. In this experiment, he was only a mile away from society, although, it was not absolute isolation. Thoreau considers that as an alternative of applying nature as a symbol (or metaphor) of the spiritual world or allowing it to be important that the spiritual world is nearby, there must now be an awareness that nature, in this event, is the spiritual world. The main things to focus on in these three readings are, ‘why and how he did this experiment; did he develop new relationships that he felt he was missing by isolation; And what did he learn from this experiment; as well as his views on nature and what he witnessed from nature during this time.’

Thoreau’s reasons for why he did this experiment are evident in the text, Where I Lived and What I Lived For, which set to the stage of his experiment by first explaining why he chose the place that he did for his cabin and how he made that decision. He explains how he spoke to the nearby farmers about their land, how he surveyed the land that he was interested in, and how he almost became somewhat of a land broker to his friends because he was always talking about how much the land was valued and how he surveyed it. But once he found the ‘perfect’ place for himself, he stated, “I discovered many a site for a house not likely to be soon improved, which some might have thought too far from the village, but to my eyes, the village was too far from it. Well, there I might live, I said; and there I did live, for an hour, a summer and a winter life; saw how I could let the years run off, buffet the winter through, and see the spring come in”. Thoreau is explaining that he found a place to spend many seasons and a place that was isolated enough to make him realize what he was missing when he let the years just pass by him. After he set the stage for the experiment and went into the presentation of the details, he shows the part of Transcendentalism that is nature and explains what he believed was happening and what he witnessed. Thoreau believed that he had engaged himself with the birds that live in the trees just outside of his cabin instead of him engaging them in his house. He states, “…for I found myself suddenly neighbors to the birds; not only by having imprisoned one but having caged myself near them. I was not only nearer to some of those which commonly frequent the garden but to those who wilder and more thrilling songsters of the forest which, never, or rarely, serenade a villager…”. He is using the birds around as a symbol of the nature that he has surrounded himself with. In this chapter of Walden, Thoreau is explaining why he completed this experiment. He explains that he wanted to live a life that was nondependent on everyday things. He states, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary”. Thoreau desired to live a life that was worth living instead of living a life that he would regret when he got old; so, he went off to live alone and in solitude.

In Thoreau’s chapter of Walden, ‘Solitude’, he shows the relationship and attitude that he developed with God, nature, life, and health and he explains why it is perfectly healthy for him to spend a great deal of time alone in nature. He presents the idea of living in literal solitude and how living in communion with nature is good for the mind, body, and soul. During this time, Thoreau is seeing particular elements of nature that are not usually an attraction to him but are now more evident to him. He states, “As I walk along the stony shore of the pond in my shirt sleeves, though it is cool as well as cloudy and windy, and I see nothing special to attract me, all the elements are unusually congenial to me”. Thoreau is trying to show his audience that being alone does not mean being by yourself, but yet that a man standing in a crowded room or one that has only two parts to life – work and sleep – is also just as alone. He is trying to show his audience that it does not matter what the situation is, alone is alone. He states, “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will”. Thoreau is trying to show his audience that it does not matter who the company is if the people around do not make you happy, then they are not considered the company and therefore you are alone. He also states, “Solitude is not measured by the miles of space that intervene between a man and his fellows”. Thoreau believes that loneliness is not measured by distance but by those around you. This experiment helped Thoreau to learn a lot about nature and solitude.

In the final chapter of Walden, ‘Conclusion’, Thoreau concludes the entire story of Walden with the belief that there is going to be a resurrection of humanity soon. Thoreau speaks of the main lesson he learned during this experiment. He talks about how any man can be successful in learning what their place is in this world if they would follow their dreams and do the things they wish to do. He states, “I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the directions of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours”. He wants his audience to live their lives in a way that makes them happy. He then goes on to state, “In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness”. He is stating that is his reader will live his life in a way that makes him happy and not stress about things that are not important then the things he is worried about will begin to work in their favor and things will begin to look positive. Thoreau also talks about a life that is inside us is similar to water that is almost ready to rise higher than it ever has risen in the past. Thoreau states, “The life in us is like the water in the river. It may rise this year higher than man has ever known it and flood the parched uplands; even this may be the eventful year, which will drown out all our muskrats”. Next, he mentions a new-found and incredible bug that appeared from a wooden table that belonged to a farmer, and subsequently, the bug had foraged in a table inside the farmer’s home that was made from wood for innumerable years. Thoreau believes that people, the same as the bug who was submerged, will arise from the dryness of civilization. He writes, “Everyone has heard the story which has gone the rounds of New England, of a strong and beautiful bug which came out of the dry leaf of an old table of apple-tree wood, which had stood in a farmer’s kitchen for sixty years, from an egg deposited in the living tree many years earlier still, as appeared by counting that annual layers beyond it, which was heard gnawing out for several weeks, hatched pertinence by the heat of an urn”. Thoreau compares the dreariness and boredom of civilization to the suffocating levels of wood that bordered this bug and says that people can discover their path out of this wood to discover a world that is considerably larger and better. Though Thoreau does not believe each individual will recognize the excellence of which humans are competent, he believes that a clearer and longer day will ultimately occur in the world.

Henry David Thoreau had a lot of his own opinions about Transcendentalism and Ralph Waldo Emerson was a huge influence on his beliefs. He became famous because of his outburst about nature and society’s unfairness. Thoreau presents his work, Walden, as a prayer for transcendentalism. Among the Transcendentalists’ main values was the fundamental righteousness of both people and nature and understood that individuals remained at their greatest when they were self-trusting. Thoreau moved to Walden Pond to conduct an experiment in personal liberation as opposed to social interaction – this was not isolation but instead was an experiment in the truest of forms. Thoreau’s writings in Walden, specifically those of Where I Lived and What I Lived For, Solitude, and Conclusion, are an overview of the experiment he completed. He completed an experiment of social isolation and wrote about the entire experience in Walden. Throughout this book, Thoreau explained that he did this experiment to live outside of the normal and to ensure that he lived a life that was worth it to him, he also explained the relationship that he built with himself and the nature around him, and finally, he told his readers that, from this experiment, he learned that if a man would take the time to discover the things that are important and to act upon those things, they would be much more content with the life they lived. Thoreau trusts that as a replacement for using nature as a symbol of the sacred world or having it be comparable to the sacred world that is out there, there should now be an awareness that nature in itself is the sacred world.

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Where I Lived and What I Lived: Experiment of Social Isolation. (2022, May 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 29, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/where-i-lived-and-what-i-lived-experiment-of-social-isolation/
“Where I Lived and What I Lived: Experiment of Social Isolation.” GradesFixer, 24 May 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/where-i-lived-and-what-i-lived-experiment-of-social-isolation/
Where I Lived and What I Lived: Experiment of Social Isolation. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/where-i-lived-and-what-i-lived-experiment-of-social-isolation/> [Accessed 29 Jun. 2022].
Where I Lived and What I Lived: Experiment of Social Isolation [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 May 24 [cited 2022 Jun 29]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/where-i-lived-and-what-i-lived-experiment-of-social-isolation/
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